I need a manual override for my brain.
February 3, 2012 11:07 AM   Subscribe

ADHD sufferers and busy types in general: how do you handle the mental transitioning between different projects, or areas of your life?

After some reshuffling at work, I'm for the first time having to deal with a dual-duty position. "Job A" involves managing a team project, with lots of communication and relatively easy, quick-turnaround tasks; "Job B" is a more difficult, longer-term individual project, requiring quite a bit of focus and creativity, and with almost no structure except what I generate myself. Unfortunately, the two require completely different mindsets and types of thinking-- when I'm doing A I feel as though I can hardly relate to being the person who does B, and vice versa.

This added responsibility has brought out my existing attention problems in a huge way. Given enough lead time, I'm actually capable of a decent level of hyperfocus; but I'm much more of a long-form than a short-form thinker (my ideal "unit of work" to devote to any single project would probably be on the order of days, rather than hours or minutes) and procrastination is a huge problem when I have to make frequent transitions between different types of work. Before, I could just about handle prioritizing more-important professional duties over less-important personal stuff; but now that I have two completely different, equally important types of work to think about, I've been unable to prioritize at all. In practice, what's been happening is that the immediate, concrete demands of A intrude constantly on my thoughts and keep me from ever buckling down to B at all.

Totally classic problem, I know: so my fellow flighty MeFites, have any of you found techniques that allow you to voluntarily place yourself in the "mental space" for a particular task, and to *stay* there instead of being pulled away by the various other legitimately important demands of your busy life? I can carve out a decent block of time for work on B, but I'd love to be able to hit the ground running, instead of spending precious hours cajoling myself to work and hauling my wayward brain back from distraction after distraction.

(Bear in mind that I already have problems with organization, willpower and procrastination, so realistically I'm probably looking for things more along the lines of "Try this simple meditation technique" than "Implement this complicated GTD system." And thanks so much!)
posted by gallusgallus to Work & Money (5 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Having a set ritual really helps me. I have a specific task that I need to do periodically? I set up a kit of all the things I need to do it, and have a set pattern of what I do with all my other stuff (e.g., a specific spot to stick other active files, a list of computer programs to close or minimize.) I also make an effort to change my working environment up: close the shades and my office door, turn on task lighting and a certain kind of music, etc. Having a reward (I can go to lunch as soon as sub tasks A and B are finished) helps, too.

Oh, and external accountability.
posted by SMPA at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2012

I have pretty severe ADHD. Medication helps, exercise helps, eating enough protein helps, but even so, I'm a hell of a scatterbrain.

Here's what I'd try in your shoes:

- To address that "the immediate, concrete demands of A intrude constantly on my thoughts and keep me from ever buckling down to B at all," right before you finish a unit of work on Project A, make a simple list of the immediate, concrete demands you're going to address as soon as you come back to it. Knowing that those tasks are safely recorded outside your head might make it easier to let them go.

- Budget some transition time into your schedule. When moving between projects, take a 20-minute break (or however long, just make sure you set a timer). Grab a beverage, maybe listen to a bit of music, catch up on MeFi—or better yet, go for a short walk, in the fresh air and sunshine if at all possible. Don't even think about the next project until the timer goes off. Taking (deliberate, finite) time to decompress is essential to clearing my head and recharging my concentration batteries.
posted by Zozo at 11:24 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not sure if your schedule will allow this, but treat A and B as if they are not just separate duties, but completely separate jobs. Set up your schedule such that you go to job A in the mornings and job B in the afternoons. Treat your days like this:
-Show up to work in the morning and focus on job A
-Check in with your team, complete any outstanding tasks
-Identify new tasks for the project that are immediate, complete them
-Just before you go to lunch, make a list of everything outstanding for job A to get to tomorrow, check in with the team again to give and get relevant updates
-Leave job A, go to lunch. After lunch, go to job B.
-In order to focus on job B, turn off your email chimes and notification popups, forward phone to voicemail (if acceptable at your workplace), and close your door if you have one.
-If you can, ideally before a needed break such as restroom, coffee, etc, open your email to check for urgent communications from the team for job A, respond if needed or push off to the next morning. Don't let this take more than 10 minutes. Become a fan of the "I'll get back to you tomorrow" non-response.
-At the end of the day, do one final check to make sure you don't have anything that can't wait til tomorrow.

A bit long-winded, but in reality this is a simple technique has saved my sanity quite a few times when working with multiple short-term and long-term concurrent projects.
posted by trivia genius at 1:18 PM on February 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Forgot to say...reverse as needed - you may find it easier personally and or based on workplace culture to do your lone job B work in the AM and team project in PM.
posted by trivia genius at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2012

When I have to switch contexts abruptly I often reset my thoughs with a three minute breathing space meditation. Mindfulness meditation in general is really good for keeping you sane when things get hectic. Youtube has plenty of guided meditations and this book works as a good step-by-step introduction to he subject.

Your email service may support tags in addresses. That means yourname+projectA@domain.com and yourname+projectB@domain.com should both redirect to yourname@domain.com without any setup required on your part. If you can get people you work with to use the tags when they send you stuff, you can then filter your mail based on receiving address. This way you get to see only A-related mail on mornings and B-related mail on afternoons.
posted by Orchestra at 2:29 AM on February 8, 2012

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